West Africa where Ghana is situated occupies a strategically important position as a major energy supplier to the global energy market. Unfortunately the region is fast gaining notoriety and as a hub of militancy, terrorism, piracy, arm smuggling and drug trafficking. The growing threat from these sources demands a clear cut response to deal with them so as to redeem the region from its impacts. Ghana as ECOWAS state is not immune from such threats.
There is enough evidence to suggest that drug cartels in Latin America have taken advantage of the poorly patrolled shorelines of West Africa using large mother ships to carry tonnes of cocaine and then station them on high seas. Afterwards they would use smaller boats to break them up for distribution to West African countries for onward shipment to Europe and America. Part of the evidence indicates that the cartels are moving major components of their operations to Ghana and other West African countries. This increasingly use of Ghana and West Africa by South American drug cartels poses serious existential threat to the security, peace and stability of the country and also to the entire sub region. Observers of the West African criminal networks have noted that the drug cartels are becoming bolder and sophisticated in their operations emboldened by large the profits they are making from the drug trade part of which has been used to acquire sophisticated weapons to protect their illegal activities.
In 2007 the UN published a report titled “Cocaine trafficking in West Africa: The threat to stability and development”. The report reiterated the need for serious human and material resources to be mobilised to confront the cartels and their operations and free Ghana and West Africa from the menace of the drug problem.
Writing in the African Security journal in 2009 on the threat narco-trafficking poses to Ghana and the West African subregion, Kwesi Aning, security expert at Kofi Annan Peace Keeping Centre in Ghana noted that:
“This [narco-trafficking] is the new frontier of war and an attack on West Africa’s fragile states. A threat that is more insidious and dangerous than the conflicts that engulfed West Africa in the 1990s and early twenty-first century. This is because the increasing flow of drugs through West African States is beginning to undermine the state, through weakening its institutions, its local communities, and its social fabric. Narco-incomes are replacing the legitimate incomes, and in some instances are providing services previously the responsibility of the states. Incomes from narcotics are basically distorting and undermining economies. The drug trade now forms a major part of transnational criminal activities taking place in West Africa. A whole sub-region now serves as a major transit point for illicit drugs coming mainly from South and Central America and Southeast and Southwest Asia to final destinations in South Africa, Europe, and North America. Critical transit points in Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, Senegal, Mali, and Niger are witnessing an onslaught of drugs passing through their airports, harbors, and porous borders”.
Dr. Aning emphasised that the “narcotics poses a serious and veritable threat to West African states and threatens to undo all of the hesitant but positive steps that have occurred in the past decade”.
Examples worldwide including Mexico and Columbia indicate that regular armies are not capable of defeating the often sophisticated, well-funded and heavily armed drug cartels. The critical question is whether Ghana’s regular armed forces can defeat the cartels who are using Ghana as a base for their operations. The evidence is that it is unlikely. The sophisticated manner in which the cartels are operating demands that a specialised unit within the Ghana Navy, Army and Air Force be established and equipped with the capabilities and assets to confront them.
Terrorism is a global problem and many armed forces are reforming themselves to respond to its challenge. West Africa and the Sahel region are also increasingly becoming a hot bed for terrorism. There are reports that AQIM or Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has plans to export terrorism to Sub Sahara Africa. Nigeria has become the latest casualty.
Already the governments of Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria have met to address the threat posed by terrorists. In January 2012 a similar meeting was held in Nouakchott by Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Nigeria. In Nigeria Boko Haram caught the Nigeria security forces unaware and it is fair to say that the armed forces and other security services struggled to mount a proper response to the Boko Haram challenge. The Federal government headed by Goodluck Jonathan came under serious criticism both home and abroad for not being able to deal with the Boko Haram threat. Part of the reason is that Nigeria armed forces appear not to have the specialised elite forces needed to deal with terrorism.
Documents we have seen indicate that Al Qaeda and its affiliates have big plans for the entire Sub Sahara Africa region including Ghana. Given the fact that no country is immune from terrorism a wait and see approach to the terror threat may not help Ghana in the long run. It will therefore be in order if Ghana gets itself prepared now to establish Special Forces within the Ghana Armed Forces for the purpose of confronting the global problem of terrorism.
Militancy in West Africa especially in oil producing countries is a major problem. Almost all the countries in Africa where oil is being produced have seen some kind of instabilities and warfare; from Angola, to Congo, to Ivory Coast to Libya, to Nigeria and Sudan the examples are many. Ghana being an emerging oil producing country, the threats of few disgruntled individuals taking up arms and causing upset in the country cannot be ruled out in the long term. Already there is clear indication that weapon proliferation in Ghana (which could make instability in the oil producing part of Ghana possible) is growing and will give the country enormous challenge if it is not dealt with.
Writing in the Journal of Contemporary African Studies Kwesi Aning of the Kofi Annan Centre noted in 2008 that:
“While Ghana is generally perceived as a stable state, there are enough small arms in circulation to be worrying. In addition, there is increasing anxiety that the instability that has engulfed the West African region can impact negatively on Ghana if concerted endeavours are not undertaken to understand and map its proliferation of small arms. Critical indicators of the proliferation of small arms in Ghana are the daily reports of firearms-related criminal activities in all parts of the country, and the widespread availability and misuse of small arms, particularly pump action guns, shotguns, pistols and AK47s.”
Now take these weapons and send it to Takoradi, give it to few disgruntled people in the region and we will have major problems similar to the petrodollar-insurgency in Nigeria. In short the availability of these weapons coupled with other factors has the potential to affect the security of oil and gas production, transportation and supply effort of the country.
Research conducted in Takoradi and its environs indicate that the ingredients that have fueled the petro-insurgency in the Niger Delta also exist in Western Region. In Nigeria the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and other ethnic militias has been behind many of the attacks on oil and gas pipelines and other installations in the country. These attacks have sometimes affected gas supply from Nigeria to Ghana. The problem is that Nigeria’s regular forces have not been able to defeat the militants, a problem that forced the government to finally declare amnesty for the militants which reduced attacks on oil and gas facilities. But signs have appeared that the militants have resumed their activities.
As Ghana’s oil production surges the threat of attacks on oil and gas installations must be taken serious. The threats by the youth in Jomoro that they will cause mayhem if the gas plant is not established in their district should not be taken lightly.
Hostage taking of oil and gas workers is a major appetite for criminal syndicates seeking to profit illegally from the oil and gas sectors. In many parts of the world it has been the duty of Special Forces to eliminate the threats posed by hostage takers and kidnappers. Unlike Nigeria, Ghana today has not gotten to the situation where oil and gas workers are kidnapped on the daily bases, but to prepare for that day will not be a wrong thing to do.
From what is known in Nigeria about the failures to deal decisively with the militants the best team that can adequately response to threats against oil and gas infrastructures may be a specially trained elite force.
Another potential threat to Ghana’s oil and gas production ambitions comes from Ivory Coast which has declared its intention to contest oil and gas resources at the Ghana-Ivorian border. While the Ivorian claims can be settled peacefully through negotiation, arbitration or cooperation, confrontation cannot be ruled out when dialogue fails. The role of Special Forces in any modern war is of so strategic value that it cannot be reduced to party politics. In other words oil and gas production and supply come with it security challenges that cannot be ignored by any serious energy producing country.
Another threat Ghana must prepare to deal with is the activities of pirates. The number of pirates’ activities off the coast of the Gulf of Guinea including Ghana and West Africa is growing. Major oil tankers and cargo ships carrying oil and raw materials from the Gulf of Guinea to U.S. and Europe have come under serious attacks from pirates. According to reports the pirates usually come with fast speed boats with sophisticated weapons, hijack ships, demand money and cart away its goods. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Live Piracy map and Live Piracy Report indicate that Gulf of Guinea in West Africa is one of the key zones where ships are increasingly under threat of being hijacked by pirates. The activities of pirates are increasingly threatening shipping routes, and trade in West Africa including Ghana. The pirates’ activities not only threaten the lives of crew but also put business and trade (the lifeblood of the resource export economies in West Africa including Ghana) under threat.
On February 9th, 2012 at 04am local time four robbers armed with long knives boarded an offshore tug berthing at the Takoradi Port, in Ghana stole goods from the ship’s stores. The robbers threatened the watchmen who were on duty with long knives and escaped in a canoe with their stolen goods. Although the crew was safe and no casualties were reported the attack itself speaks volume of the threat that oil and cargo ships operating in Ghana ports and coastal waters face. What worries many experts and industry leaders is that the pirates are attacking ships further and further away from the coast leaving ships, their cargo and their crews very much vulnerable.
There are reports that shipping insurers in London are beginning to increase premium for ships operating in West African coastal waters including Ghana. Other reports also speak of oil and shipping companies asking NATO and Western governments to provide them with security to eliminate the pirates’ threat in West Africa and the Horn of Africa. If the pirates’ activities is allowed unchecked it will endanger business and trade activities not only in Ghana but also in the entire subregion.
What is important so far as Ghana is concerned is its national security, economic security, political stability, international trade, and protection of human life. The growing threat from drug cartels, arms traffickers pirates, militants, and terrorists to the security of Ghana and its neighbours shows that it will be difficult for Ghana to confront these threats without adequately developing its own special forces to deal decisively with them.
The key problem in Ghana is for the ruling government not to politicise the establishment of such elite forces and issuing threats to the effect that such forces will be used to deal with the opposition parties. For as soon as such threats are issued it degrades the importance of such a strategic national asset and weakens its standing in the eyes of the public.
Therefore it is crucial that the generals and admirals in the Ghana Armed Forces adhere to the concept of military honour which stipulates that the professional soldier must be above politics meaning that, in domestic politics, generals and admirals should do well not to attach themselves to political parties or overtly display partisanship. Therefore as noted by Sam C. Sarkesian the doctrine of an impartial, nonpartisan, objective career service, loyally serving whatever administration or party that is in power must be religiously respected by the Armed Forces to avert a situation where one political party will be inclined to dissolve the Special Forces when they come to power.
Written by Lord Aikins Adusei
Aning, Kwesi (2008) “From ‘voluntary’ to a ‘binding’ process: towards the securitisation of small arms” Journal of Contemporary African Studies 26:2, pp.169-181
Aning, Kwesi (2009) “Perspectives on President Barack Obama's Africa Foreign Policy” African Security, 2:1, pp. 66-67